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If the Cardinals Are Honest About Wanting To Win, Jose Martinez Must Play

The Cardinals need to clean up at the cleanup spot.

Hello there, Jose Martinez!

It doesn’t matter that Martinez is a 29-year-old rookie with only 185 big-league plate appearances to his name.

It doesn’t matter that his winding journey to the majors took nearly 10 years and more than 3,600 minor-league plate appearances before the Cardinals gave him a gig late last summer.

Martinez doesn’t project as a core piece of this team’s future. He isn’t on any Top Prospects lists, and the Cardinals are overstocked with young, on-the-rise outfielders.

If Martinez is overexposed to MLB pitching, we may see his weaknesses exploited. He could lose confidence, and it might mean the end of his big-league dream. But don’t worry about that now. Your team is 3.5 games out of first place, and Martinez is a dependable source of offense. So use him.

The Cardinals can’t be picky or snobby here. Martinez may lack favorite-son status, or endorsements from Baseball America. But he can hit, dammit.

He’s hit, and hit and hit.

Martinez hits as a starter, with a .453 slugging percentage, 16 extra-base hits including eight homers, and a .779 OPS in his 33 starts. Oh, and the Cardinals are 18-15 when Martinez starts a game.

Martinez bounces off the bench and hits, with a .733 slug and 1.193 OPS when entering the game as a substitute.

And he  really pinch-hits and hits big, having worked over pitchers for a .471 average and 1.503 OPS in a difficult PH role.

I’m thinking the Cardinals could use some more of that — so  push it.

Instead of putting Martinez at the No. 6 spot in the lineup or lower, I hope manager Mike Matheny stays with Martinez at cleanup. Martinez gave the Cardinals some desperately needed punch from the middle-lineup on Sunday, banging a double and lofting a grand-slam homer in the Cardinals’ 13-4 romp at Cincinnati.

So give Martinez a chance to fill that truck-tire-sized hole in the weak middle of the lineup.

Before Martinez busted open Sunday’s game with the slam — four RBIs on one swing — the Cardinals were famished at leadoff.

With Jedd Gyorko suffering through his most acute slump of the season, the Cardinals entered Sunday’s game with only a .151 average, .209 slugging percentage, one homer, and six RBIs from the No. 4 spot since the All-Star break.

That included a 19-game stretch leading into Sunday that saw Gyorko and other cleanup occupants deliver only one RBI … ONE … in 77 plate appearances.

How unimposing are the Cardinals’ three-four-five spots in the lineup?

Well, Eddie Gaedel passed away in 1961.

Had Eddie come along later, he may have been a candidate to bat fourth for the 2017 Cardinals.

If you combine the 3-4-5 slots and view them as one block of offense, the Cardinals are thinner than Dee Gordon.

As a group — and compared to the other 29 teams — the St. Louis 3-4-5 hitters are last in slugging (.394), OPS (.719), RBIs (170), and homers (42). The three spots combined have a 90 wRC+,  which is 10 percent below the league average. That ranks 28th.

Cardinals cleanup men have slugged a low-end .420 this season.

There is nothing to risk by turning Martinez loose for a while as your cleanup hitter.

Well, nothing to lose except games.

Am I overreacting to Martinez’ rollicking good time Sunday at The Great American Ball Park?

Well, perhaps a little.

Then again …

From July 1 through Saturday Aug. 5 the Cardinals’ No. 4 hitters had a .180 batting average, .255 OBP, .287 slug and a .542 OPS in 137 plate appearances that produced three homers and 14 RBIs.

My goodness.

It gets worse: the Cards’ park-adjusted runs created (wRC+) over that time was a stunning  55 percent below league average for the No. 4 lineup spot.

So yeah, call me a loon for wanting to see Martinez bat cleanup for a while.

Besides his limited body of work is absolutely impressive.

In 167 plate appearances this season Martinez is hitting .286 wth a .355 OBP and .510 slug for an .866 OPS. Among Cardinals with at least 100 PA this year, Martinez is second to Tommy Pham in OPS, and second to Paul DeJong in slugging.

DeJong has the best home-run ratio on the team — one homer per 14.5 at-bats, but Martinez is second, averaging a homer every 18.3 at-bats.

In park-adjusted runs created (wRC+) Pham leads the Cardinals at 40 percent above league average.

Martinez, at 23 percent higher than league average, ranks second.

Besides Pham, when we use park-adjusted runs created to scan the offensive performances by Cardinals outfielders (minimum 100 PA), Martinez is 41 percent higher than Randal Grichuk, 33 percent better than Stephen Piscotty, and 19 percent above Dexter Fowler.

Fowler will likely return from the DL this week. Assuming Fowler will play frequently, what does that mean for the Cardinals’ roster and lineup?

Thoughts:

1. The Cardinals already demoted Martinez once this season when he didn’t deserve it. Since promoted back to the big team on July 13, Martinez is batting .318 with a .500 OBP, .773 slug and a 1.273 OPS. That represents only 32 plate appearances. Small sample and all of that. Yeah, and maybe this is the point: the Cardinals need to expand that sample size by giving Martinez more swings.

If the Cardinals send Martinez down and keep Grichuk and Piscotty on the 25-man roster, what kind of message does this send? A lot of bad messages.

Including: performance doesn’t matter … job decisions aren’t based on merit … if you ignore terrific performances and give special treatment to preferred players, then you aren’t trying to win, period.

I don’t think the Cardinals will demote Martinez.

2. In a similar vein, there would be no justification in putting Martinez on the bench while giving more starts to Piscotty and/or Grichuk. Again, what’s the priority here? Don’t tell us it’s all about winning when you don’t utilize your best players and go with inferior hitters instead.

Play Martinez while he’s hot. When he cools down, then adjust accordingly. If he has to go back to the bench, fine. But don’t put him on the bench when he’s hoisting your tired offense.

Martinez deserves to play until he   doesn’t  deserve to play.

And play Martinez because others are mired in terrible slumps or maddening inconsistency.

Play Martinez as a cleanup hitter while giving Gyorko a little time regroup.

And play Martinez because he’s paid too many dues for too many years and he’s still as hungry as ever. His energy and enthusiasm — backed by strong numbers — are healthy for the Cardinals.

Play Martinez because he’s earned it. And on a team that’s pulled down by one of the most lethargic offenses in the NL, playing time must be earned … and not handed away like a free ticket.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

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